Montreal·Updated

NDP united behind Layton

Federal New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton's sudden leave of absence has left many wondering about the future of the NDP in Quebec.

News of Jack Layton's cancer leaves Quebecers questioning NDP's future

Federal New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton's sudden leave of absence has left many wondering about the future of the NDP in Quebec.

Layton's popularity is credited with boosting the party's seats in the province from one to 59 following last May's federal election.

Party faithful said news of his renewed fight with cancer is sad – but they said his absence won't harm the party's popularity in Quebec.

"The last numbers showed that the individual NDP members have actually surpassed Jack in popularity in Quebec." said New Democrat Tyrone Benskin, the MP for Jeanne-Le Ber.

"I do not feel that this puts the party in jeopardy in the province," said Benskin, whose riding includes Verdun, Saint-Henri, Point-Saint-Charles and  Nuns' Island.

Political analyst Christian Bourque, with Léger Marketing, agrees Layton's leave of absence won't hurt the NDP in Quebec immediately but warns that if his departure extends beyond the fall, then  Quebecers' honeymoon with the New Democrats could begin to end.

"[People in Quebec] will want to know more about the NDP, more about what they stand for. It will certainly change the game for that party," said Bourque.

"I don't think that in the short term it will really hurt the NDP, but as we get further into this Conservative majority mandate, things would need to happen, but certainly not this year, certainly not up until Christmas. I don't think that many questions will be asked by the Quebec population."

Turmel 'great choice': Mulcair

NDP Deputy leader Thomas Mulcair says the whole party is behind Jack Layton in his fight against cancer.

"He's going to receive all our support as a team so that he can concentrate 100 per cent on the only thing which is a priority right now, which is his health, and come back as soon as he's been able to re-establish that health, and we hope that that will be at the beginning of the next session," Mulcair said from Montreal.

The deputy leader said Turmel's new role as interim leader will bode well for the party.

"When Jack and I were able with great pride to announce her candidacy in the last election it was one of the better turning points here in Quebec.  Madame Turmel will receive my full support as interim leader.  She's a great choice.  Jack and I had a chance to go over it.  In the current context it was by far the best choice."

Mulcair will maintain his roles as deputy leader, house leader and Quebec lieutenant for the party.

Montrealers wish Layton well

On Monday, Layton promised he won't be gone for long.

He said the prostate cancer he was diagnosed with in 2010 is under control and he expects treatment of a newly-diagnosed, different type of cancer to go well.

He said he plans to return to the House of Commons as leader of the NDP in September.

On the streets of Montreal many people want that to happen.

"Let's just hope for the best for him and that he wins this battle also," said Montrealer Jean-Marc Bergevin, who said he believes Layton deserves most of the credit  for the party's massive gains in Quebec in last spring's federal election.